Sunday, October 16, 2011

Spiced Apple Oatmeal: Autumn in a Dish

I'm sitting inside, snuggled on the couch with a cup of Rishi peach oolong tea (which is delicious, in case you were wondering).  And I've just finished one of my favorite autumnal breakfasts, a steaming hot bowl of spiced apple oatmeal.

It's a simple porridge. But, it's warm and hearty and redolent with all the flavors that exemplify the beginnings of autumn.  Spicy ginger and warming cinnamon. A splash of vanilla and a quick grate of nutmeg.  And a pinch of salt to bring everything together. On top of everything, oatmeal is seriously good for you.  But, that's neither here nor there.  It's delicious.  And, on a brisk morning like today, there's really nothing better than a steaming bowl of oatmeal.  Especially when Peef is the one in the kitchen, cooking it up.

But, there are a few tricks to making that perfect bowl of oatmeal. Here's what we like to do.
  1. It helps to start with a good quality whole grain oatmeal (not instant or quick-cooking).  Personally, I love both the texture of steel cut oats and the creamy texture you get from rolled oats.  So, I like to use a mixture of the two. 
  2. Use milk for cooking the oatmeal.  This gives your breakfast more protein, as well as a richer flavor and a super creamy texture.  For two servings, we like to use 1 cup of whole milk and 1/2 cup of water.
  3. Add fruit!  In this case, we added crisp apples.  But, just about any fruit will work.  Try dried fruits like raisins, cranberries, cherries, or pineapple.  Or add fresh fruit like peaches or blueberries toward the end of cooking.
  4. If you'd like a little textural crunch, try adding a handful of chopped nuts. Walnuts are a particular nutritional powerhouse, but almonds offer additional calcium and an amazing sweet  nuttiness.   A dollop of peanut or almond butter is also delicious.
  5. You can microwave your oatmeal... but trust me when I say that it's really better when cooked the old-fashioned way, right on the stovetop.  To cut down on the cooking time, soak the oats in water overnight by bringing the water to a boil, turning off the heat, and adding the oats. Cover the pot and let sit over night. The next morning, reheat the oatmeal  on low heat for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally.
 And there you have it:  the perfect bowl of oatmeal. Not too watery, not too thick... and it will make your entire house smell like you've been baking an apple pie.

Peef's Spiced Apple Oatmeal

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Pickled Red Onions: Summer's Prize & Winter's Bounty

As I glanced at the pantry shelves in our basement over the weekend, I realized that we canned up a small storm this summer.  And I'm pretty pleased.  We've got a nice selection of items stowed up down there - and every single one of them is going to be a pleasure to crack open in the middle of our Wisconsin winter.

The corn relish we made reminds me of something I'd imagine they made back in the 1950's -- when every summer picnic included deviled eggs, cold-cuts, homemade lemonade, and a small vat of sweet & sour relish.

The pickles, on the other hand, hearken back to my childhood days. Back then, it was my mother who spent her spring and summer making jams and jellies and filling jars with tomatoes and peaches.  She also made these amazing dill pickles. They were spicy and garlicky, and they made your tongue tingle, your eyes water, and your breath smell... well, garlicky.   My pickles this year are pretty close, I think. And I'm pretty excited.

We also managed to put up a boatload of jalapenos.  Nearly 20 pounds this year. From that, we ended up with 14 half-pints of candied jalapenos, and almost double that of pickled slices and spears... which means we'll be all set for making nachos, pulled pork sandwiches, and jalapeno-studded corn bread for the next 8 months!

Interestingly enough, one of the real pleasure of the summer turned out to be pickled red onions.  We found this recipe over at one of my favorite cooking blogs, Voodoo & Sauce.  And, in fact, her description of these pretty much guaranteed we were going to try them out.  Just read this:
The hot brine takes the edge off the onions, and though the natural sweetness of the onions is enhanced, these pickles do not cloy. I boorishly ate half a jar of these with country pâté on a bagel, I admit it. My new favorite lunch is a cheese and sweet onion pickle sandwich on rye, but these are also wonderful on a hot dog or a steak taco. They pair well with salmon and rosé, and not just aesthetically. They are pretty in pink, and a perfect way to kick off any canning season.
Yeah. Really, how can you resist?

We followed Heather's recipe almost exactly on our first try. But, now that we've gotten our hands dirty, we'll be ripe for experimenting with the flavors next time.  And there definitely will be a next time -- probably before the end of the harvest season.
Sweet Onion Pickles c/o Voodoo & Sauce

And just in case you're wondering what to do with a jar of pickled onions, let me give you a short (but delicious) list:
  • Give your tail-gating hot dog a grown-up twist.
  • Add a few to your next grilled cheese sandwich.
  • Make your favorite breakfast sandwich even better - egg, prosciutto, and avocado with pickled onions on rye, maybe?
  •  Pair with smoked salmon for a delicious winter appetizer.
  • Serve alongside pork, or other roasted meats.
  • Eat out of hand - yes, I've done this, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.
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